How can lilacs teach us about our environment? They’re telling us that our climate is changing. Phenologists consider lilacs to be a crucial tool in tracking the Earth’s warming. Phenology is the science of measuring our climate with repeating biological events, such as the blooming of lilacs.
Since the 1950s, they have used lilacs to measure our changing climate. The common lilac is considered to be an ‘indicator plant,’ one that is sensitive to temperatures, rather than seasonally changing light.
According to the USA National Phenology Network (NPN), thanks to human-caused climate change, spring is happening about 2.5 days earlier every decade. Lilacs bloom only in response to temperature.
Help by reporting on your own lilac
Phenology is now a fast-growing field, as farmers and gardeners deal with climate change. The best example is Project Budburst, bringing together researchers, educators, gardeners, and citizen scientists to uncover the stories of how plants are affected by a changing climate. Volunteers track lilac blooming patterns in this project of the Chicago Botanic Garden. They send in data and, as citizen scientists, help to document the process of climate change. They look at the lilac’s life cycle, and record the first leaf, full leaf, first flower, full bloom and past bloom. Get started here.
You can also follow The National Phenology Network’s Springcasting page.
This Shifting Seasons Tracked with Satellites, Cameras, and Lilacs is a great article by GlobalChange.gov, the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
What’s Dangerous About an Early Spring by The Atlantic is also a good read.
Planting thousands of lilacs will also help the environment by providing:
- Storm water management
- Erosion control
- Plant diversity
- Improved air quality
- Green space
- Wildlife habitat
Ketzel Levine, NPR’s beloved “Doyenne of Dirt” wrote a great article, asked people to join Project Budburst.
“The online ‘citizen science’ campaign collects data about native plants. All you have to do to play is observe. Whether it’s the first leaf of an aspen or the first bloom of an evening primrose, note the date, head for the Web site, and presto! You’re an instant phenologist.’
Karen Laukkonen | Lilac Enthusiast